***  FINLAND  2015   -  WEEKS 4~5  ***

This week's Photo Gallery  Wild Flora of SE Finland Bottom of Page Return to Finland Index Page

CAMPING IN FINLAND 2015 - Hamina, WW2 Salpa Defence Line, Russian border at Vaalimaa, Lappeenranta, Punkaharju Glacial Eskers, Savonlinna, Kolovesi National Park, the canals of the Heinävesi navigable water-way, Valamo Orthodox Monastery, Joensu:

Mustila Arboretum:  the morning we left Helsinki, the sun was bright but a brisk SE wind brought clouds scudding across the sky. We headed eastwards on the E18 motorway through typically Finnish pine and birch forests, with signs pointing to Kotka in SE Finland and Pietari/St Petersburg in Russia. The predominantly Swedish place names were noticeable in this part of Swedish-speaking Finland. Beyond Porvoo, Route 6 turned off NE across open, flat farming countryside towards Kouvolo, our intermediate goal being the Mustila Arboretum near the small town of Elimäki (See Mustila Arboretum web site). Since the Arboretum's foundation in 1902 as an experimental station for exotic conifers, almost 100 conifer species and 120 broad-leafed tree-species newly introduced to Scandinavia have been planted in its 120 hectare grounds. It is particularly noted for its displays of rhododendrons from around the world.

Click on the 3 highlighted areas of map
for details of South Karelia

With the aid of the Arboretum brochure's English version site map which supposedly gave details of colour-coded walking routes around the plantations, we set off to walk the 3km circuit; it was soon clear however that way-makings were minimal, and trusting the map and our directional instincts, we followed the path through the rhododendron valley where the plants were just coming into flower and around to the plantations' southern slopes. Only a few of the trees were labelled, but it was the wild flora among the dense ground cover of fresh-leaved Bilberry that attracted us. The other noteworthy feature was that, as we knelt to photograph the flora, this year's first mosquitoes began swarming around our heads; they were early! The path wove through plantations of cedars, emerging onto a farm-track at the arboretum's far corner, lined with several different species of Horsetails, with their distinctive spore-cases at the top of the feathery whorls of leaf-fronds (see left). In Helsinki's Natural History Museum, displays had shown mock-ups of gigantic tree-sized species of this ancient primitive plant from the Carboniferous Era, whose distant descendents here lined the pathway through Mustila Arboretum.

Eastwards to Hamina:  through Elimäki, we followed Routes 354 and 357 south-eastwards through forested and farming countryside to rejoin the E18 near Kotka. Towards Hamina we expected the motorway to end and the road to bypass Hamina south of the town as Route 7. But the motorway had recently been extended, and we found ourselves passing Hamina on newly constructed motorway north of the town heading towards the Russian border at Vaalimaa, seemingly with no exits. Our sat-nav went into panic mode, showing us apparently speeding across roadless tracts of forest, trying desperately to re-direct us to roads it knew! To our relief, we reached the end of the new motorway extension in 10kms, and were able to turn off onto what was signed as Route 107, the line of the old Route 7 which would take us back towards Hamina and tonight's campsite, Hamina Camping. Through Vilniemi village, we found the basic little campsite where we had stayed in 2012, set under pines overlooking the shore of the Gulf of Finland. The shore side was tempting, but the SE wind blowing briskly off the sea was uncomfortably chill, and we pitched at a more sheltered spot under the pines (see left). And tonight while settling in, we killed our first mosquito of 2015 and switched on the Bagon diffuser as a precaution.

A day in camp at Hamina Camping:  this early in the year, most of the statics were deserted and we had the little campsite to ourselves, the perfect spot for a day in camp. With the sky clear and sun bright the following morning, our woodland camp was truly delightful, the peace disturbed only by chaffinches calling among the pine trees. Behind our pitch, we found this year's first Labrador-tea still in tight bud, and through a gap in the fence, a path led through the beautiful pine woodland, the forest floor covered with a rich carpet of Bilberry, patches of May Lily in bud, sweet-smelling Lily of the Valley (Kielo, Finland's national flower) and lovely Chickweed Wintergreen whose tiny white flowers glowed in the morning sunlight. But the mossies were getting worse by the hour, and having photographed this magnificent woodland flora, we were forced to close the camper's sliding door and switch on the Bagon. Despite the chill breeze blowing off the Gulf, it remained a wonderfully sunny afternoon with sunlight streaming down through the pines. Facilities at Hamina Camping were good with a homely little kitchen, and with wi-fi internet at reception we were able to plan our next few days according to the weather forecast using the ever reliable Norwegian Meteorological Institute web site.

The wild flora during these 2 weeks was so impressive that we have included a separate photo-gallery of Wild Flora of SE Finland.

The fortress town of Hamina:  before leaving the following morning, we walked down to the shore for photos looking out across to the distant islands in the Gulf of Finland (Photo 1 - Hamina Camping). It was a short drive back into Hamina which is today the easternmost port in mainland EU. The town was originally founded in 1653 by Per Brahe the Swedish Governor General of Finland, and developed as an overland and maritime trading centre. Having been destroyed in the Great Northern War, the town was rebuilt by the Swedes in the late 1720s with Renaissance-style star-shaped fortifications and a geometric network of streets radiating out from the centre towards 6 bastions. The Russians captured Hamina in the mid-18th century reinforcing the fortifications, and after the fateful Finland War of 1808, the Treaty under which Sweden was forced to cede the whole of Finland to Imperial Russia was signed in Hamina in 1809. Under Russian rule, Hamina was further reinforced with a huge Central Bastion and 58 brick-vaulted casemates as munitions stores. But by 1840, with Finland now firmly under Russian control, Hamina lost its military significance and the fortress was closed and partially demolished as the town expanded. In the 1960s the remaining parts of the ramparts and bastions were preserved for their historical importance, and a huge canopy-like marquee constructed in the Central Bastion as an events arena (see left).

We drove into the centre of Hamina, parking by the town hall at the epicentre of the town's radial streets network, to get a copy of the impressive Walking in Old Hamina guide brochure from the TIC. The lady here was a mine of local information and advised us to start at the Central Bastion before an afternoon concert began. From St Mary's Lutheran church we began our tour of Hamina's preserved bastions. At the Central Bastion, concert preparations were in full swing, but the attendants allowed us to walk through, telling us more about the canopy construction. A nearby section of preserved rampart gave a good over-view of the impressive arena and its backdrop of 19th century Russian casemates (Photo 2 - Hamina Central Bastion). We continued along the line of the surviving ramparts looking down over the town's modern stadium which nestles between the 19th century Russian-built caponier fortifications and outlying parts of the bastion's defensive structures. The path around the ramparts led past a surviving powder magazine (now an art gallery) to emerge at one of the guard houses where one of the radial roads once passed through a gate-house (see right). Seeing us consulting our map, a local lady and former town guide stopped to tell us more of the fortress' history. We crossed Mannerheimintie and continued along the line of fortifications into a park where a memorial commemorated those killed in the coastal battles of 1939~44; mums with buggies and toddlers walked past from a nearby nursery school. Back through the town's kauppatori (market square), we walked up Frederikinkatu past the elegant 1859 wooden town house built by a wealthy Russian merchant family, back towards the Neo-Classical town hall (Photo 3 - Hamina's Town Hall); wherever you are in Hamina, the chances are you'll look along the street to see the town hall at the centre of the octagonal concentric streets network (see left). At the centre we searched in vain for the 2009 monument commemorating the bicentenary of the 1809 Treaty of Hamina; the TIC lady explained that the glass memorial in the town hall garden had been demolished when a motorist had a heart attack and ran into it! Across at the Lutheran Church of St John, yet another of Engel's designs in Neo-Classical Greek temple style, we were greeted by a well-informed lady who told us more about the Winter War, the loss of Karelia and the war cemetery by the church (Photo 4 - Hamina's War Cemetery). There are currently 75 war graves here and the remains of war dead are still being found around Karelia and brought for burial at Hamina (see right). Along Kasarminkatu, the Shopkeeper's Museum was free-entry today; this charming little museum preserves the shop, house and workshops of a late-19th century merchant. Our attempts to walk the SE corner of the town ramparts were frustrated by the area being securely sealed off, still enclosed within a restricted military zone; the Finnish military still maintains a significant presence in Hamina, with helicopters buzzing around above the town. We were obliged to follow the street around past the grandiose buildings of the Reserve Officers' Training School to complete our circuit. It had been an enjoyable re-visit to Hamina; we had met some interesting people from whom we had learned more about the town's history.

East to the Russian border and Vaalimaa Camping:  we drove east from Hamina along Route 7 to Virojoki, and a couple of kms before the Vaalimaa Russian border-crossing, we turned down to the coast for tonight's campsite, Vaalimaa Camping, a straightforward little campsite which we had used when last this way in 2012. We again pitched down at the shore-side grassy camping area looking out across the Gulf of Finland. The following morning gusting gales off the sea drove rain from across the wind-ruffled waters of the Gulf, and we spent a stormy day in camp with the wind buffeting our camper (see left).

The Salpa Linja wartime defensive line:  the following day, 4 June was the birthday of Marshall Gustav Mannerheim, Finland's legendary wartime leader; what better day than this for our re-visit to the Virolahti section of the Salpa Linja defensive line which he caused to be constructed and which served to save Finland from Russian occupation in 1944. With the Soviet unprovoked act of aggression in November 1939 resulting in the 105 day long Winter War, Finnish troops under Mannerheim's leadership, despite being vastly out-numbered and out-gunned, stalled the Soviet invasion. But the armistice in March 1940 resulted in Finland being forced to cede to Stalin's USSR huge areas of its eastern territories in South Karelia, the Salla salient and the whole of the Petsamo peninsula on the Barents Sea coast. But although Finland retained her independence, further war with USSR was simply a matter of time. Mannerheim's solution was to construct a defensive line to protect the country's new westward shifted eastern border in the event of further Soviet aggression. Mannerheim gave the 1,200km long defensive line the symbolic title of Suomen Salpa (the Finnish Bolt), but it is now usually referred to as the Salpa Linja (Salpa Line); it stretched all the way from the Gulf of Finland northwards to Lapland. This massive project was begun in April 1940 immediately after the Winter War's conclusion, and involved 35,000 military and civilians workers supported by 2,000 women auxiliaries, in the construction of 728 reinforced concrete bunkers, 3,000 field fortifications, some 225 kms of anti-tank stone obstacles (see above right) and ditches, 300 kms of barbed-wire obstacles, and more than 350 kms of trenches (see right). Construction work was interrupted in June 1941 when USSR again invaded Finland, beginning the Continuation War. After a brief defensive phase, the Finns under Mannerheim's leadership launched a counter-offensive, succeeding in driving back the Soviets and regaining some of the territories lost in the Winter War. The Salpa Line was left far behind and fortification work concentrated on the eastward front line. When however USSR began its major offensive in the Karelian isthmus in June 1944, the Finns were forced back and had to sue for peace. Under the terms of the peace treaty ending the Continuation War in August 1944, Finland lost permanently the territories which Stalin had forcibly annexed, and work on the Salpa Line fortification ended. Although the Salpa Line was never tested in battle, it had been a major morale booster for Finland and perhaps a significant factor influencing Stalin's decision to halt the Finnish campaign. The Finnish defence forces maintained the Line fortifications however until the 1980s and parts of it remain as a tourist attraction.

Our 2012 visit to the Virolahti Bunker Museum and Salpa Linja Museum near Miehkkälä had focussed on the military historical significance of the Salpa defensive line in the context of the Russian 1939~44 aggression. Our re-visit today would concentrate on the botanical opportunities presented by the forest footpaths around the Salpa Linja's 2 outdoor museum areas.

Wild flora amid the trenches at Virolahti Bunker Museum:  just west of the Virojoki cross-roads, we turned off Route 7 onto a forest road leading to the Virolahti Bunker Museum and the surviving lines of Salpa Linja granite anti-tank obstacles. Beyond the museum with its displays of ancient, rusting field guns, we followed the pathways amid the open pine and birch forest, but our interest today was not the network of surviving trenches and concrete bunkers, but what was growing among them. The ground cover was predominantly Bilberry its bright green new leaf laden with tiny pink flowers (see right) (Photo 5 - Bilberry flowers) and Crowberry, dotted with tiny white Chickweed Wintergreen and Wild Strawberry flowers. But what we were particularly looking for was Bearberry seen in flower almost uniquely in Virolahti in 2012. With our greater experience since then of identifying the various berry flowers, we soon found what we were looking for: along the line of trenches, the parapet walls of sandy soil were covered with the ground-hugging trailing stems and elongated textured leaves of Bearberry with its distinctive small clusters of elegant constricted bell-shaped flowers, white bodied with pink-fringed frilly tips like tiny Chinese lanterns (see left). Nearby, and looking readily different in appearance to our now more practised eye, Lingonberry plants grew, their more erect stems having oval shaped leaves which tended to curl down at the edges; growing in elongated, tight cigar-shaped clusters when in bud (see below right), Lingonberry flowers are open and bell-shaped, the white or sometimes pink-tinged petals tending to curl outwards at the edges with distinctively projecting style. Having now readily identified the distinctive differences between these two types of berry flowers, we spent time down on hands and knees photographing them, much to the puzzlement of the Russian tourists who were busily photographing the anti-tank gun mounted at the end of the trench facing eastwards ironically against the threat of renewed Russian attack (see above left).

More wild flora gems at Miehikkälä Salpa Linja outdoor museum:  from Virojoki a minor road runs northwards for 10 kms to the village of Miehikkälä, and just beyond here we reached the Salpa Linja Museum where sections of the Salpa Line in Virolahti have been preserved to show the scale of the 1941~44 fortifications. We knew the footpaths route from our 2012 visit but again our interest today was the wild flora growing among the surviving Salpa Linja trenches. On the hill top stood an ancient field gun, part of a batch of antiquated weapons which the French had dug out of some 19th century museum to sell to the poor Finns who in 1939 were desperately trying to re-arm in the face of threatened Soviet aggression. Dropping down the hill-side towards the zigzag line of communications trenches, we could detect the sweet scent of wild Lily of the Valley flourishing on the slope; tight clusters of Lingonberry buds grew on trench parapets alongside patches of Bilberry laden with their tiny pink flowers. A sudden downpour forced us to take shelter in a restored concrete bunker at the end of the trench, where once men might have taken shelter from falling shrapnel bursts. The sun re-appeared and we emerged from our unsavoury shelter to continue around the restored line of trenches. Here we found even more beautiful specimens of Bearberry flowers, their trailing stems spreading along the wooden parapet tops, and being at eye height they were in perfect position for photographing the pink-fringed clusters of tiny Chinese lantern flowers (Photo 6 - Bearberry flowers). Did, we wondered, these beautiful berry flowers grow here in early 1944, and did they give the same pleasure to Finnish soldiers manning the Salpa Line trenches in defence of their homeland as they gave us today?

From the end of the trench line, we dropped down to a forest track and line of stone anti-tank obstacles; facing the Finnish defensive lines of tank traps on the opposite side of the ditch a preserved Russian 1944 T34 tank reared out of the forest, an ugly and menacing brutish monster with enormous steel turret; the sight somehow symbolised Finland's heroic struggle in 1939~44 against the super-power might of Russian aggression (Photo 7 - Salpa Linja defensive line). Back along the roadside path, we again found banks of wild Lily of the Valley filling the air with the sweet smell of Finland's national flower. On the opposite side of the road, lines of surviving anti tank ditches extended down into the forest, and up on the hillside, a German-supplied anti-tank gun leered down from the Finnish defensive position. We returned over the hilltop to George after our perfect afternoon of wild flora photography amid the trenches of Mannerheim's Salpa Linja. And that evening back at Vaalimaa Camping, the sun set into cloud to give a flaring sunset sky over the Gulf of Finland (Photo 8 - Vaalimaa sunset) (see left).

The southern end of Via Karelia and village of Ylämaa:  the following morning, before heading northwards, we drove out to the Russian border-crossing at Vaalimaa, or at least as closely as the border zone controls would allow (Photo 9 - Russian border-crossing at Vaalimaa); no, this was not a road for us, and back safely into Finland we turned into Route 387, the southern start-point of the Via Karelia (see right) which we should follow for the next month, 1,200kms of back-roads which parallel Finland's eastern border with Russia. Despite now being busier with traffic at its southern end, even a few Russian trucks, Route 387 is still a beautiful road passing through magnificent pine forests fringed with birch and this year's first sighting of spruce trees, all looking glorious in the morning sunshine. 30kms north, we reached the small village of Ylämaa. This area produces almost 50% of Finland's granite exports, and we passed several of the quarries on the approach to the village. The area is also the source of the semi-precious gemstone, Spectrolite, first discovered during the construction of the Salpa Line when quarrying stone near Ylämaa for tank traps. The Gem Village at Ylämaa now has 4 workshops producing jewellery from Spectrolite, a gemstone which reflects a rich wealth of colours from golden brown to dark blue.

Ylämaa had suffered severe damage during the Winter and Continuation Wars and the old church destroyed; in the graveyard of the modern replacement church, rows of graves and memorial plaques in the war cemetery commemorate the many local war dead from 1939~44 (see left). At the Gem Museum by the main road, we met the elderly lady who had shown us around in 2012. It was a joy to encounter this charming lady again, whose family had been evacuated from Viipuri as refugees from the Soviet invasion in 1939; she had been brought up in Sweden until returning years later to Ylämaa long after the war, her home town of Viipuri now lost for ever in Russian territory.

Our re-visit to Lappeenranta:  we continued north for 30 kms to reach Lappeenranta, pausing at a large Prisma hypermarket in the southern outskirts to stock up with provisions. The shop was clearly targeted at cross-border Russian trade, with signs in dual language Finnish and Cyrillic. Putin may be adept at invading neighbouring countries, but clearly is less skilled at managing the Russian economy and feeding and providing for the mass of its people, who flock across the border into Finland for both foodstuffs and consumer goods, unavailable other than for the wealthy few in mother-Russia. We did our shopping and drove down into the centre of Lappeenranta to park just off Kirkkokatu.

Lappeenranta was established in 1648 as a far eastern outpost of the Swedish Empire, and being on the shores of the navigable Lake Saimaa, it became an important trading post. The Russians captured the town in 1741 and fortified the Linnoitus hillock overlooking the all-pervasive Lake Saimaa. The town became a popular spa resort for wealthy Russian aristocracy during the 19th century Grand Duchy, and the development of railways and industry brought rapid growth. Lappeenranta reverted to Finnish control after independence in 1917, but much of the town was destroyed in the 1939~44 Winter and Continuation Wars. The modern rebuilt town remains Finland's largest inland port with the Saimaa Canal conveying timber and minerals down to the Gulf of Finland at Vyborg. With its modern technical university, Lappeenranta today has a lively atmosphere, popular with tourists and cross-border shoppers from Russia.

We eventually found the Tourist Information Centre in a shopping centre; the staff were insistently helpful with street plans and details of summer festivities with tomorrow's grand opening of the lakeside giant sandcastles display. We recalled from our 2012 visit shopping at the market stalls of Lappeenranta's Kauppatori, but reaching the market square today, it was clear that competition from supermarkets had brought a decline in the traditional stalls; the market square was now virtually a car park. We walked back through the huge war cemetery where a sombre granite monument overlooks row upon row of war graves from 1939~44; one side of the monument was engraved with a grieving widow with young children (see above right), and on the other face elderly parents grieve for their lost sons (Photo 10 - Lappeenranta war cemetery). But even more moving was the memorial inscribed with over 6,000 names listing the Finnish war dead whose remains still lie exiled for ever in Karelia in what is now Russian territory. A passing young couple translated the inscription for us, but it was clear that the national sense of outrage at the rape of Karelia is fading as the events of the 1940s fade from living memory and the younger generation now accept the territorial loss as irretrievable. There must be a lesson here as Russian bullying aggression continues today in other parts of Europe, unchecked by blustering Western rhetoric.

Further down Kirkkokatu, the Lappee Church was open; this delightful wooden church in the centre of modern Lappeenranta was consecrated in 1794 in what was then forest land beyond the fortress, after the former church on Linnoitus hill was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire (Photo 11 - Lappee wooden church at Lappeenranta). We were able to walk around the church's interior admiring its straightforward architecture and paintings as the organist practised his music (see above left). We camped that night at Huhtiniemi Camping on a hill-top just outside the town (see right); only chaffinches singing heartily in the tall pine trees relieved the gloom of an overcast evening.

A happy reunion in Lappeenranta at the Giant Sandcastle displays:  when we were last in Lappeenranta in the summer of 2012, we had travelled the length of the Saimaa Canal into Russian occupied Karelia to the former Finnish city of Viipuri (See Log of our 2012 journey along the Saimaa Canal). During that trip we had made the acquaintance of Zahra, a qualified architect from Iran; she and her husband Behnam, who teaches mechanical engineering at the Technical University, now live in Lappeenranta; we had kept in touch with her since then and had arranged to meet up with her again while we in Lappeenranta today. The morning was bright with clear sun shining down through the pines, as we drove down into the town. We had observed yesterday how Lappeenranta, despite being a high employment, modern town with flourishing industry, was a civilised place free of the oppressive traffic and aggressive driving standards usually associated with affluent cities. The central area was relatively quiet, traffic far from burdensome, with courteous and considerate driving particularly at junctions, and parking was relaxed. The other noticeable feature was that, despite problems of the national economy, the municipal authority in Lappeenranta still seemed able to use its public funds to provide high standard of local services, including imaginative and free of charge adventure playgrounds for children, and a varied programme of summer concerts and entertainments for visitors. These included the summertime attraction of the free access Giant Sandcastle (Hiekkalinna) displays which officially opened today at the start of the summer season, down by the lakeside harbour (Satama) (see above left), and it was there that we had arranged to meet Zahra (Photo 12 - Lappeenranta harbour).

We expected huge crowds down at the Satama, but we parked without difficulty and joined other local families strolling along the harbour-side in the bright morning sunshine to see the sandcastles. This year the theme was 'Heroes', and rather than one huge sandcastle the displays consisted of a series of individual figures or groups, sculpted cleverly from sand, each one representing the creator's chosen hero: there were comic heroes like Superman and Batman, Finnish sports heroes from the world of ice-hockey, football, boxing and motor-racing; but most imaginative of all, heroes from everyday life: a VPK voluntary fire brigade fireman rescuing a child from a burning building (see above right), and a doctor treating a child. But the entry that won our prize was the Scientific Hero: a graphic-looking huge sand-crafted figure of Albert Einstein (Photo 13 - Albert Einstein sandcastle) (see left). And of course being civilised Lappeenranta, the whole set of displays was free-entry. Along with local families, we ambled around admiring the skill of the sand sculptors and wondering how their creations would survive the hot sun and pouring rain of a Finnish summer. Having taken our photos, we had time to walk up over Linnoitus fortress hill before meeting Zahra down by the Harbour at 2-0pm. Just as we were walking up the cobbled slope, by pure serendipitous chance Zahra was coming towards us on her cycle. Over coffee and cakes, we shared our respective news of the last 3 years and reminisced about our visit to Viipuri where she had introduced us to the architecture of Alvar Aalto; it was so impressive hearing her chatting in fluent Finnish to one of the girls at the coffee shop and sheer delight to meet with her again (Photo 14 - Meeting with Zahra).

Mustola lock on the Saimaa Canal:  on a quiet Sunday morning we left Lappeenranta to join Route 6 eastwards, and just beyond the city limits, we diverted from the highway following a sign to the Saimaa Canal, and Mustola lock, one of the pair of locks controlling the canal's exit from Lake Saimaa. We had passed through these locks on our Saimaa Canal trip in 2012. We walked across the bridge to photograph the view looking along the length of the enormous set of locks (see above right); as we stood there, the surging rush of water indicated that the sluices had been opened to drain the lock, and shortly after, the huge steel gates swung open with the staggeringly deep canal basin's water level now down to the level of the ongoing canal. Just across the bridge the line of the earlier canal ran parallel with the more modern set of locks. We got into conversation with a local man whose family had once farmed near to Viipuri and had been forced to flee westwards as refugees in 1944. His father's farm in the now depopulated border zone had since been forested by the Soviets. We empathised with the tragic history of that period for Finland, with the loss of so much territory, so many 1000s made homeless and the once beautiful city of Viipuri now so sadly neglected. As we chatted, a warning bell sounded and the bridge began to lift for a modern yacht to pass into the lock's deep basin, its high mast top just level with the lock rim. The lower gates swung to and the basin slowly filled to the level of the upper canal. The lock's upper gates sank down and the yacht moved quickly forward towards the next set of locks and on into Lake Saimaa (Photo 15 - Mustola lock on Saimaa Canal).

Imatra and the hydro-electric dam on the Vuoksi River:  we rejoined the Route 6 highway to continue our drive to Imatra as a train of loaded timber wagons passed along the railway alongside the road. Reaching Imatra, we turned into the town and at Imatran Koski we located the hydro-electric dam which blocks the now dry rocky gorge of the Vuoksi River. Parking in the main street amid the Russian tourist cars, we walked across the Vuoksi bridge and in the now overcast weather the dam across the head of the gorge had a gloomy air (see right). The Vuoksi River forms the principal outflow seaward of the entire Lake Saimaa system, and at Imatra this monumental volume of water was once forced into a narrow rocky gorge, in its natural state creating the Imatra rapids. Downstream from here, the Saimaa waters of the Vuoksi River drain into Lake Ladoga and eventually into the Gulf of Finland at St Petersburg. The thundering waterfalls and mighty rapids that once surged through the narrow gorge here at Imatra had long been an early tourist attraction for Russian aristocracy since Catherine the Great and her entourage had visited Imatra in 1792. But after Finland gained her independence in 1917, all this came to an end when the hydro-electric dam was constructed in 1929 blocking the waterfalls and rapids and leaving the exposed rocky channel of the lower gorge entirely dry (Photo 16 - Imatra dam). Initially the HEP station powered by the Imatra dam generated sufficient electricity to supply the whole of southern Finland. Now during the summer months, the dam's sluice gates are opened each evening for 20 minutes to recreate the waterfalls cascading over the dam and surging down the gorge, as we had witnessed at Trollhättan in Sweden in 2013. A poster by the bridge however gave the disappointing news that the Rapids Show, accompanied by light and music spectacle, did not begin until late June. Despite the gloomy light, we took our photographs looking across to the dam from the bridge, and clambered down under the dark trees along the dry channel below the dam. From a small park, we could look across the wide Vuoksi River bypass channel spreading out above the dam leading to the generating station.

Vuoksen Kalastuspuisto (Fishing Park) Camping:  before heading for tonight's campsite further up the river, we turned along Route 62 past a huge cross-border shopping-park out towards the Svetogorsk border-crossing into Russia; as at Vaalimaa, we could get nowhere near the border post before discretion turned us back. Across the bridge by the dam at Imatra and 2kms upstream, we reached Vuoksen Kalastuspuisto (Fishing Park) Camping. Set on a narrow peninsula in the Vuoksi River, the small campsite specialises in fishing, with its own stocked salmon and trout ponds. We were greeted with hospitable friendliness by the owner who charged €24 for a night's camp, and pitched along the river bank looking out over the wide river; it was a lovely spot (see left), and the following morning with the sky clear, the sun sparkled across the Vuoksi (Photo 17 - Vuoksen Fishing-Park Camping).

Kolmen Ristin Kirkko (Church of the Three Crosses) designed by Alvar Aalto:  in the northern suburbs of Imatra, we turned off to find Kolmen Ristin Kirkko (Church of the Three Crosses) designed by the renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in 1957. The church is set amid pine forests close to a huge power station which was also sufficiently formless to have been an Aalto designed building. The church building's low, almost non-descript appearance, semi-hidden among trees, could easily have been mistaken for an industrial warehouse; the adjacent and disproportionately high, slender concrete tower might well have been a lift-testing sky-scraper (see right). If you peered upwards through the trees, the tower was topped by a cross, the only external indication that this was in fact a church (Photo 18 - Alvar Aalto's Church of the Three Crosses).

The church would normally have been closed on Mondays but the cleaning ladies were there and let us in. We picked up the English language leaflet, written by Aalto himself but in semi-intelligible techno-gibberish normally produced by the Google translator. Inside the church, what had appeared externally to be a low, smallish building, was in fact of vast, aircraft-hangar proportions, but set at bizarrely asymmetrical angles as you would expect from an Alvar Aalto design. The 'nave' was divided into 3 smaller sections by heavy, sound-proof sliding partitions, though how often, in a small industrial parish, this cathedral-sized space was filled was doubtful. There was however a calm elegance about the curving, asymmetrically aligned cream-painted walls and high ceiling (see left). The contrasting white chancel, lit by high windows and skylights, glowed almost luminescently, the east wall with its eponymous three tall, white crosses set at an angle to the side walls with an organ loft above. The birch-wood seating, presumably also designed by Aalto and set in asymmetrical rows, was the most pleasing aspect of the whole interior decor.

Elk hazards on Route 6 highway through the pine forests:  Finns may consider it quite iconoclastic of us, but as with other Alvar Aalto architecture we had seen around their country, we were not particularly impressed by the Kolmen Ristin Kirkko, and re-joined Route 6 highway northwards. Apart from the occasional road-house, this was a lonely road through deserted pine forests. We made good progress, until that is we reached a section where the forest-side fencing seemed extra robust. Here we were slowed by emergency vehicles attending an accident involving just one vehicle which had run off the road. With traffic so light, only one car involved and the sturdy elk-fencing, this looked like a 100 kph collision with an elk lumbering across the road. Chastened by this, we began taking a more cautionary awareness of the frequent elk warning signs.

The Siikalahti Wetlands Nature Reserve:  50 kms further northwards, and the closest point to the 1944 realigned Karelian border with Russia, we approached the small town of Parikkala; here we turned off to the Siikalahti Wetlands Nature Reserve. The development of Siikalahti had been extensively influenced by human activity during the 19~20th centuries: with the need to extend the area of arable land, water levels in Lake Simpelejärvi had been lowered by some 3m, reducing the area of Siikalahti bay at the southern end of the lake with its depth now a maximum of 1m. The low, nutrient-rich wetlands so created is now well-endowed with flora and fauna and attracts migrant birds, with more than 70 species regularly nesting there. The area is now managed by Metsähallitus, the Finnish National Forestry Authority, as a protected nature reserve, with information hut, and partially boarded nature trail with bird-watching towers and hide overlooking the wetlands.

We set off from the parking area along the flora lined woodland pathway, which included pink and blue lowers of Lungwort. The information hut gave details of the migratory pattern of Ospreys which leave their over-wintering in Central Africa, cross the Sahara and Mediterranean landing in Cos and the Evros Delta in Northern Greece, and finally cross Eastern Europe to reach Southern Finland to nest at Siikalahti in early May. The first lintutorni (bird-watching tower) gave extensive views over the Siikalahti, and from here we could see many Black Headed and Little Gulls with their distinctive dark underside of wings, and could hear a distant Curlew and late Cuckoo. A board-walk led across flooded meadows where tiny Sedge Warblers perched on the fence, and at the far end the path crossed boggy woodland with Bog Arum growing in flourishing patches in the marshy ground; White-backed Woodpeckers are said to feed here on dead trees although today we neither saw nor heard them. Beyond here we climbed the second bird-tower overlooking the main body of wetlands with more Gulls and Tufted Ducks. But rain clouds were visibly gathering, and we hurried around to the hide for shelter from the imminent storm. The hide was set on a platform out in the shallow lake and approached along a screened walk-way; through viewing-ports distinctive Slavonian (Horned) Grebe and Golden Eye were visible. We settled into the hide (see above right) which looked out directly across to where Black Headed Gulls were nesting no more than 10m away on small lake-islands (Photo 19 - Nesting Black Headed Gull); fluffy chicks were just visible under the mother birds. And then the storm broke; and did it rain (see right), lashing across the water in misty squalls for almost an hour (Photo 20 - The Siikalahti Wetlands). We sat in the hide sheltering from the rain and watching the nesting gulls (see left), and at one point heard the distant 'booming' call of a Bittern from the reed beds beyond the lake. The rain eventually passed for us to return across the wet board-walk to the parking area.

The Punkaharju esker-ridge:  Parikkala was an unremarkable little town set alongside a railway junction where the line forked with one branch turning off along the Punkaharju ridge to Savonlinna and the main line continuing north to Joensuu. We turned off from Route 6 onto Route 14 which passed through densely forested terrain to reach the small township of Punkaharju where we shopped for provisions. The ongoing Route 14 and railway line continue ahead spanning a wider line of glacial esker-ridges and lake-islands, with a minor road turning off across a spectacular section of steep-sided glacial eskers (See our 2012 Log on the formation and appearance of glacial esker-ridges). We took this back-lane which crossed the lakes via a series of narrow, classic eskers (Photo 21 - Punkaharju glacial esker-ridge) (see right), and at the far end turned off over onto Vaahersalo Island, threading our way around to our campsite for the next couple days at Mannila-Rantakatti Farm (Photo 22 - Mannila-Rantakatti Farm-Camping).

Lusto Arboretum and Kokonharju Forest Trail  (click here for map):  Mannila-Rantakatti Farm is tucked away amid a maze of lanes in a remote corner of Vaahersalo Island with a small lakeside camping area. Although facilities are basic, it is a welcoming place in a delightful lakeside setting (see left); the water here is part of lakes Puruvesi and Pihlajavesi, branches of the all-pervasive Lake Saimaa. Its downside however is that it also provides residential facilities for school groups which tend to be noisy. After a day in camp here to catch up on jobs, we returned along the Punkaharju esker ridges to visit the Lusto Arboretum, also managed by Metsähallitus as part of the excellent Lusto Forestry Museum. From our 2012 visit, we had details of the arboretum's layout and of the Kokonharju Forest Trail. We parked at the old Lusto railway station with its preserved wooden buildings, and walked across to the arboretum. Lusto Arboretum had been established the 1920s as a research station planted mainly with species of coniferous trees, both those native to Finland and exotic species such as larch which do not grow naturally in Finland. The are now over 80 species of conifer and 33 broad-leafed tree species in the separate plantations at Lusto. Passing a pair of candle spruces which stood like sentinels at the entrance, we walked initially along the avenue of spruces. But there was as much interest in the ground cover flora as in the trees, with Bilberry, May Lilies now in full flower, Herb Paris, Chickweed Wintergreen and Wild Strawberry.

The broad-leafed tree corner marked the start of the Kokonharju Forest Trail, a way-marked 3km circuit through the preserved pristine forest of the Punkaharju Nature Conservation Area. The trail follows the magnificent ridge of the Kokonharju eskers, and includes some of Finland's tallest trees. The trail's start was close to the main road, with the silence of the dense forest disturbed by the noise of passing traffic, but the way-marked path soon began climbing steeply up over the forested esker and undulated along the ridge for the first 1.5 km (Photo 23 - Kokonharju Forest Trail). This section contained an area of particularly tall Scots Pines, native to Finland, including a 180 year old specimen which was measured in 2003 at 40.5m high, and a 41.8m tall Norwegian Spruce (see right). The path followed the crest of the esker-ridge through the tall trees, and was lined with Lily of the Valley (Kielo in Finnish), amongst which we found a patch of Solomon's Seal, its white pearl-drop earring-shaped flowers spread along its arched-over stem; this was the first time we had seen this flower.

The path continued along the length of the esker to within sight of Puruvesi lake just visible through the trees; here the path dropped down to the line of a watercourse which we followed up its valley, crossing the steam and gaining height into the forest on the far side, passing through a stand of larches, not native to Finland, one of the oldest cultivated plantations in the Punkaharju forests planted in 1880. Along a broader trail through more open, maintained forest, we reached a stand of particularly tall European Larches, including what is considered Finland's tallest tree, measured in 2003 at 46.3m but ironically a tree-species non-indigenous to Finland. The weather all day had been disappointingly overcast and particularly gloomy in the forest, but as we walked back through the arboretum's avenue of larches, the sun finally broke through, giving a bright end of afternoon to light the trees (see left).

Kerimäki wooden church:  rejoining Route 14 from the northern end of the Punkaharju esker-ridge, we turned off northwards on a delightful minor road winding through pine forests fringed with birch and spruce, lit by the morning sun towards the large village of Kerimäki, best known for its huge ochre-coloured wooden church set up on a hillock in the village centre. The huge cuboid structure 45x42m topped with a 27m high dome is considered the world's largest wooden church, remarkably seating a congregation of over 3,000 people (see right) (Photo 24 - Kerimäki church). The explanation for the church's extraordinary size being due to confusion of metric and imperial measurements between architect and builder is a complete myth, since the dimensions comply with the original plans which still exist. Rural Kerimäki in the 19th century included some 12,000 parishioners, and at a time when large gatherings for markets and church festivals were commonplace, the pastor required that a large part of his congregation should be able to worship together. The entire parish contributed to the huge wooden church's construction which was completed in 1847. Services are now only held in the church during the summer since it cannot be heated.

The church's interior, lined on 3 sides with 3 tiers of high galleries all filled with seating, was painted in grey, the wooden columns mottled to give a mock-marble effect (Photo 25 - Interior of Kerimäki church)(see left). The size and scale of its carpentry construction was breath-taking, and its grey colour gave the church a stark Lutheran sombreness. From the gallery we took our photographs looking down across the nave, as we tried to imagine the candle-lit church with a full congregation.

A brief visit to Savonlinna:  the generally unremarkable town of Savonlinna is spread along an esker causeway separating Lakes Haapavesi on the northern side and Pihlajavesi on the southern side, all part of the all-pervasive Saimaa water system. We had visited Savonlinna in 2012, and the only reason for going into the town today was to stock up with provisions at the Prisma supermarket and to seek guidance at the Nestori Information Centre about campsites and walks in the Kolovesi National Park, our next port of call. Across the causeway, we turned down from the bypass road into the older part of the town and parked opposite the Olavinlinna Castle, built by the Swedes in 1475 on a small island in the lake to protect the waterway trade routes of their eastern empire from marauding Russians, much-hyped today by the mass-tourism industry and the imposing venue of Savonlinna's prestigious annual opera festival. The Nestori Information Centre, supposedly a national park centre run by Metsähallitus and based in an old warehouse nearby, was next to useless, unable to provide any practical help. We did our provisions stock-up and headed northwards on Route 471 through magnificent birch and spruce-fringed pine forests.

The superbly helpful Kolovesi National Park Centre at Enonkoski:  reaching the village of Enonkoski, here we found the Kolovesi National Park Centre set in an old wooden mill once powered by the rapids which gave the village its name, koski being the Finnish word for rapids. In contrast with the prestigious but worthless Nestori Centre in Savonlinna, here the charmingly modest lady was a mine of information, providing all the details we needed about walks in Kolovesi National Park, access to them and potential wild-camp spots together with campsites at Kerma further north. We also learned from her the Finnish word for national park, kansallispuisto. She was unable to provide a detailed map, but readily gave us access to her computer to consult the Metsähallitus cartography web site, and although we could not print these out, we could at least get a detailed look at the topography of the Nahkiaissalo nature trail which we wanted to follow. With her help we had successfully garnered all the details we needed, and continued northwards.

Kermankeidas, an excellent campsite overlooking the Kermankoski rapids:  10kms further through the forests, Route 471 reached the free-of-charge chain-ferry across the Hanhivirta narrows separating Pyyvesi and Enovesi, yet more of the Saimaa lakes-system (Photo 26 - Hanhivirta ferry) (see above right). Just beyond the ferry-crossing, we noted the dirt road leading to the parking area for the Nahkiaissalo nature trail in readiness for tomorrow's return here. The terrain was uncharacteristically hilly, undulating markedly with distant views of forested hill slopes; the forests and road sides were also littered with glacial boulders. Route 471 continued for a further 20kms of lonely forests before reaching the junction with Route 476 where we turned westwards towards Kerma and Heinävesi. Just before the bridge crossing the wide river and Kermankoski rapids, we pulled into the Kermankeidas guest-house/restaurant/guest-marina, one of the potential camping places at Kerma mentioned to us at Enonkoski. Behind the guest-house, a small camping area overlooked the river-rapids, a magnificent location; the owner and his wife were charmingly hospitable and welcoming, and charged just €10 for a night's camp. What more could you ask for, and we gladly settled in to the distant background roar of the Kermankoski rapids (see Kermankeidas web site).

Good public services at Heinävesi:  the following morning, before starting our day in Kolovesi National Park, we drove into the nearby small town of Heinävesi for access to a computer and printer in either the Tourist Information Centre or public library to print out detailed maps for the Nahkiaissalo nature trail, and to shop for provisions for our planned camp-fire supper at tonight's Kolovesi forest wild camp. The Heinävesi TIC was in the municipal offices; here they could provide us with map brochures about the local waterways and rapids, but for computer access we should have to try the library next door. Here the librarian readily responded to our request for computer and printer, checked that the printer had enough paper and left us to it. We immediately loaded the Metsähallitus web site and zoomed in on the Kolovesi National Park. Within minutes we succeeded in printing off our detailed maps for today's walk and our wild camp spot at Kirkkoranta for tonight. The librarian charged us €0.30 for the paper and dismissed our words of thanks; it is a pubic library, she said! Again we were impressed with Finland's excellent standard of public services. To see more details of Heinävesi and district, see The Heinävesi Travel Guide. Having completed our shopping at the S-Market supermarket, we finally set the satnav with the coordinates for the remote location of Nahkiaissalo nature trail in Kolovesi National Park and headed back into the forests.

The Nahkiaissalo nature trail in Kolovesi National Park (click here for map):  back south for some 20kms on Route 471, the combination of satnav and GPS coordinates brought us with satisfying precision to the point where a sign pointed along a narrow dirt road to Nahkiaissalo, and 3 kms along here we reached the parking area with Metsähallitus information panel and sign board for the luontopolku (nature trail). We booted up packing waterproofs in the day-sac since the sky had now clouded over and rain was forecast for later. The detailed contour map we had printed off showed that, the nature trail although only 3kms in length involved considerable height gain and loss and at one point a steep climb. The first section of the path, dipped and climbed over hillocks through gloomy, dense pine, spruce and birch forest (see right) with ground cover of luxuriant Bilberry the flowers now well past, and eventually reached a point overlooking the lake at Lohilahti bay. Dropping down to water level, the trail was not distinctively spectacular for its wild flora, but the densely forested, hilly terrain had its own attractiveness (Photo 27 - Nahkiaissalo nature trail). The path now gained height steeply up the forested fell-side, climbing a spur enclosed by a rocky cleft, leading out onto a more open fell-top with fewer trees, giving distant views across the Kolovesi lakeland (see left). On this higher ground, Lingonberry was more prominent with some of the buds now coming into full flower (Photo 28 - Lingonberry flowers and buds). Across the hill-top knoll, the path began its descent, back into dense woodland with bearded lichen hanging from dead branches of pines. With board-walks crossing marshy hollows, the path led along a forested valley, rounding a hillock to lead back eventually to the start-point. This well-maintained trail in an obscure corner of the Kolovesi National Park had provided a rewarding forest walk.

Wild-camp and camp-fire at Kirkkoranta in Kolovesi National Park:  returning to Route 471, we turned off 6kms further north along a short dirt track down to the Kirkkoranta parking area and landing-stage overlooking the main lake of Kolovesi National Park; at the Enonkoski National Park Centre, we had been assured that it was OK to wild-camp here and to use the supply of chopped wood for a camp-fire. Having waited for a group of canoeists to stow their gear and paddle off on their watery expedition into the maze of Kolovesi lakeland channels, we were able to pitch at this magnificent waterside spot looking out across the Kolovesi water-scape and forests all lit by the later afternoon sun (Photo 29 - Kirkkoranta wild-camp) (see above right). All such areas are equipped by Metsähallitus with shelters, camp-fire hearth and supply of cut timber for free use by visitors to the National Parks. The camp-fire shelter here at Kirkkoranta with its chimneyed hearth and wooden benches had a well stocked log-store equipped with axe, bow-saw and sawing bench, and plentiful supply of dry birch bark for kindling (see left) (Photo 30 - Kirkkoranta camp-fire). Having set up camp, we soon had a fire going and arranged the grille over the glowing embers to toast our supper sausages; and having eaten, we sat with our beers enjoying the camp-fire late into the evening (Photo 31 - Evening camp-fire at Kirkkoranta). It was the perfect end to a perfect day with the sun declining over the lake producing a dramatic sunset (see right), the golden light glowing on the pines on the island across the water, and the peace of the evening only disturbed by woodpeckers drumming in the forest and a cuckoo calling across the lake (Photo 32 - Kolovesi sunset).

The Kermankoski Rapids and locks:  we woke the following morning to hazy sun lighting the lake and pine-covered island opposite. Northward through the hilly, forested terrain, we parked again by the bridge at Kerma to photograph the Kermankoski rapids (Photo 33 - Kermankoski rapids) (see left and below right), still trying to fathom out the direction of flow of the various water courses and interconnecting lakes, and the navigable canalised channels which bypassed the complex series of rapids. From the Hynnilänsalmi bridge, we could look down over the main navigable channel with a perfect view to where we had camped 2 nights ago at Kermankeidas guest-house/marina (Photo 34 - Keimankeidas Guest-house/Marina/Camping). On the other side of the bridge looking upstream, a massive mound of sawdust was all that remained of a logging saw-mill that had been operated by the rapids from 1790 until 1913. We also noticed a side-lane signed for Kerman Kanava (Kerma Canal) and drove around to investigate. A dirt road led to a trimly landscaped area around canal locks which enabled the navigable channel to negotiate the 2m height difference from the upper Kermajärvi lake, bypassing the rapids down into the on-going water system. Another set of locks and artificially canalised channel, the Vihovuonteen Kanava, just beyond Kerma village bypassed further rapids to drop the navigable water course down into the next part of the lake system.

Heinävesi and the Pääskyvuori observation tower:  we drove on back to Heinävesi and sat by the little guest-harbour to eat our lunch sandwiches looking out across the vast expanse of Kermajärvi lake (see left). Finally leaving Heinävesi after our several enjoyable days in the area, we turned west on Route 476, and just outside the town followed signs steeply uphill on a rutted dirt road leading to Pääskyvuori Näkötorni. This 20m high observation tower built on a hill-top amid dense pine woodland gave distant views over the Kermajärvi lakeland. The tower needed to be this height to achieve a line of sight above the high trees, but the climb was scarcely worth the effort: all that was visible was an endless vista of pine trees and misty view of distant water with the horizon scarcely distinguishable from the increasingly murky sky.

The Karvion rapids and Canal lock:  a minor road led through the forest around the western end of Kermajärvi to reach Route 23, where we turned back eastwards along the northern side of the lake; an indication that we were back on a main road was the re-appearance of speed cameras. At Karvio, the road crossed the long bridge over the Karvion Canal immediately alongside the short section of rapids which the canal and lock by-passed; the narrow neck of land at Karvio provided the gap through which the waters of Lake Varivesi spilled over rocky rapids to drain southwards into the lower Kermajärvi lake system. The canal had been cut through this narrow land gap alongside the rapids to provide a navigable channel, with a single lock bridging the 1m height difference between the 2 water systems (see right). Just beyond the high arching bridge over the rapids and parallel canal/lock, we pulled into the Karvion filling station and café, and walked back to explore the locks and rapids. Looking down from overhead on the bridge gave a clear understanding of both the topography and the means of linking the 2 water systems with a navigable channel alongside the natural and un-navigable water course (Photo 35 - Karvion Canal bypassing rapids). Despite the gloomy light, we took our aerial photos from high on the bridge, then walked down to the canal-side towpath to explore the landscaped area around the lock, and the protective pontoons which extended each end of the canalised channel alongside the rapids.

The Varistaipale Canal and flight of locks:  from Karvio we turned off north onto Route 542 for 5 kms at the small village of Varistaipale which grew up around the canal and flight of 4 locks constructed here in the 1930s. We walked down to the flight of locks and the Canal Museum in the former lock keeper's cottage which documents the history and construction of the Heinävesi navigable water-way. The museum did not officially open until next week, but we were allowed a brief look; unfortunately all the photograph commentaries were in Finnish with no English version available. This was a pity since by now we had so many questions about the Heinävesi system of connecting canals. It was clear from the museum photos that in its heyday, the waterway was used principally for log floating supporting the area's timber industry. We walked along the tow-path from the bottom lock up through the full set of 4 locks, and it soon became evident that, unlike the other Heinävesi canals we had seen whose function was to provide a navigable channel bypassing natural rapids, here at Varistaipale the 1.5 kms artificial cut had been canalised through bed rock to create an entirely new channel connecting the Juojärvi water system into the Heinävesi lakes (Photo 36 - Flight of four locks on Varistaipale Canal). This seemed a potentially catastrophic undertaking which could have caused a disastrous deluge given the unpredictable hydrodynamics of so many bodies of water, but clearly the canal builders knew their business. We estimated that the flight of 4 locks here at Varistaipale overcame a height drop of some 15m in total between the northern and southern water-systems which the canal connected. The curving Varistaipale canal is an impressive piece of construction, cut through bed rock for a length of 1.5km and lined with huge granite blocks, and its flight of locks spans the highest rise of all Finland's canals. Its commercial usage ended in the 1960s when timber began to be transported by lorry, and the canal with its beautifully landscaped canal-side parkland is now only used by leisure craft.

Re-examining the maps again now, we could understand more of the route of the Heinävesi waterway which forms a navigable route via the series of 6 canals by-passing natural rapids or by the artificially cut channel at Varistaipale. During our few days around Heinävesi, we had seen 3 of the canals that link the network of lakes making up the Heinävesi waterway system, and had learnt much about its use as a means of communications, for log-floating in the early days and now providing leisure craft routes. What had seemed initially as something of a questionable diversion coming up through Kolovesi to Heinävesi had in fact proved a huge learning opportunity for understanding the Heinävesi navigable waterway, and given us what surely must be the trip's highlight, our forest-lakeland day in Kolovesi National Park and the wild camp at Kirkkoranta.

Lintula Orthodox Convent:  with the sky still heavily overcast, we crossed the canal bridge and 4 kms north along Route 542 we reached the small settlement of Palokki where a dirt road led to Lintula Orthodox Convent (see left). The original Lintula Convent was founded in Karelia in 1895, but with the Soviet invasion of November 1939, the convent had to be hastily evacuated; only one of the icon treasures was able to be rescued and 5 of the nuns died during the forced evacuation. The community of Sisters resettled in Central Finland and the convent was re-established at the present location near Heinävesi in 1946 receiving help from the nearby Valamon Orthodox Monastery (Photo 37 - Lintula Chapel iconostasis. With rain now beginning, we walked over to the Convent church and were greeted by a charming lady, one of the Friends of the Convent, who in faultless English told us more of Lintula's history, its forced evacuation from Karelia and re-settlement here; there are just 9 surviving nuns now all elderly. She showed us the Mother of God of Jerusalem icon rescued during the hasty retreat in 1939 from the Karelian Lintula Convent, and now the centrepiece of the new church's iconostasis (Photo 38 - Mother of God of Jerusalem icon)(see right). We talked at length with this clearly educated lady about our travels and the Finnish language, and in wishing us well, she taught us a new Finnish expression Hyvää matka (Good journey).

Valamon Orthodox Monastery:  after a night's camp at the over-expensive and dismally forlorn campsite at Karvio (it was one of those sites you were glad to be leaving), we headed east on Route 23 and took the side lane which led to Valamon Orthodox Monastery. Being a Sunday morning, the car park was almost full with many visitors, but we were greeted by one of the Friends of the Monastery who seemed surprised not only that we were English but that we had been here before in 2012 (See our 2012 Log). But the bad news was that the 1-00pm Orthodox service was held every other day of the week except Sundays when the monks clearly had a rest day! We ambled up through the grounds to the central courtyard and round to the monastery church with its copper-topped onion domes (see left). We were surprised to have the semi-darkened church with just the candles twinkling to ourselves, having expected it to be filled with tour groups. With due respect for the peace of this sanctuary, we took our photos of the icon-bedecked iconostasis (Photo 39 - Valamon Iconostasis); bunches of golden globe flowers decorated the two icon treasures which had been rescued from the original Valamon Monastery in Karelia in 1940 when the monks had escaped across the ice of Lake Ladoga from the Russian invasion carrying their icons and treasures in the evacuation of Karelia (see below right). We sat a while drinking in the chapel's graceful presence, but the peace was short-lived as a tour group trooped in noisily. We left them to it and walked around to photograph the church's exterior from across the lawned courtyard.

Linnunlahti Camping, Joensuu:  rejoining Route 23, we headed eastwards on this fast main road towards Joensuu, passing now into North Karelia. Driving standards declined dramatically as we joined Route 9, the main Joensuu~Kuopio highway, with aggressive overtaking and speeding seemingly oblivious to the frequent speed-cameras. Our satnav guided us faultlessly into Joensuu's city centre; approaching Linnunlahti Camping, we soon recognised the familiar grid of streets and apartment blocks of the city's university area (See Log of our 2012 visit to Joensuu). We were greeted with a smiling welcome from the young student at the campsite reception who told us she was reading Finnish literature at Joensuu University; she seemed unsurprised that English visitors asked if this included studying Elias Lönnrot's Finnish Epic Kalevala. For a city campsite, Linnunlahti Camping was very acceptable with its parkland setting (Photo 40 - Linnunahti Camping, Joensuu); the inevitable background of city traffic noise was tolerable, and the nearby fairground closed and fell silent at 7-00pm. We settled in under the pine trees as a red squirrel trotted past; when we had stayed here in 2012 hares hopped around under the trees. The price had risen from the €17 we paid in 2012 to a still very reasonable €22, and facilities were high standard, modern and clean with a well-appointed kitchen/wash-up/common room and individual integrated bath-rooms providing some of the best showers of all the campsites used so far. There was also a washing/drying machine at good value €2 and wi-fi partly covering the site.

Although following a similar route to that taken in 2012 through South and North Karelia, we had also this year covered some interesting new ground, most particularly the Kolovesi National Park and Heinävesi waterway. We shall now head out to the far easterly reaches of North Karelia and Kainuu, to Ilomantsi and the Petkeljärvi National Park, to Hattuvaara and Finland/mainland EU's most easterly point, to Patvinsuo National Park and the Ruunaa Trekking Area, and shall learn more about the impact of the 1940 Winter War on the area of Kuhmo and the Motti tactics employed by the Finns to repel the Russian invaders from their homeland. But that's all for the next edition. As in past years, our trips have become so fulsome that time constraints have meant few editions were actually published during our travels. We are home now, and it will be a busy autumn and winter spent writing up our 2015 travels. So join us again soon for our next episode.

Next edition to be published quite soon

Sheila and Paul

Published:  12 October 2015

 

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